NYU launched its Prison Education Program to give those incarcerated at the Wallkill Correctional Facility access to a college education, the university announced Monday. The program, backed by a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, currently has 36 incarcerated individuals enrolled.
Wallkill Correctional Facility is a medium-security prison for males located in the Hudson Valley. Rolled out for the Spring 2015 semester, PEP currently has two courses available with the possibility of an additional four during the summer of 2015. Following their release from prison, students may choose to continue their education at NYU or apply their credits to another university.
When we last met Jail Education Solutions earlier this year, the startup was part of FastFWD, a social enterprise accelerator in Philly focused on public safety.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has sparked controversy after proposing to fund a college program for state prisoners that has demonstrated success at reducing recidivism.
New York state prisons house around 55,000 prisoners. Recidivism is a major problem. Around 40 percent of prisoners who are released end up back inside prison walls. With one year’s incarceration costing about $60,000 per year in New York state prisons, that’s a huge drain on state resources.
In an attempt to address this problem, Attica prison has been running a college program in association with Bard College since 2001, with 275 inmates currently enrolled. Inmates can take individual classes or a full degree program, and the programs are conducted with the same thoroughness as those on campus.
The success of the Bard Prison Initiative speaks for itself. To date, over 500 inmates have taken classes, and 250 have graduated with degrees. These successes include many who could never have expected to achieve academic success in their home environment. Ex-students of the program have gone on to successful jobs and careers, and even to attend graduate schools, including Columbia University and Yale.
Perhaps more impressively, the rate of re-incarceration for those who have taken classes has fallen ten-fold to just 4 percent, whilst for those who graduated with degrees that rate falls even further to 2.5 percent
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has put into action a plan to greatly expand college in prison offerings in the state of New York. This plan will result in one prison in each of New York’s prison regions offering college programs to inmates, in which they could earn either an associates or bachelor’s degree. While many have applauded Governor Cuomo’s efforts, including the labor-backed Working Families Party, which released a statement from their State Director Bill Lipton asserting, “We applaud the Governor’s bold initiative to combat the high rates of recidivism in New York through the power of education,” others have objected, and publicly so.
Opponents of Governor Cuomo’s prison education plan have included the following:
- U.S. Representative Christopher Collins (R-Clarence) objected, saying that not only does he oppose the prison education proposal, but that he would go so far as to introduce legislation to bar the federal government from being able to finance any college-in-prison programs. He said the prison education plan was “an insult to law abiding citizens across our state.” He continued, “Strangely, many of these same politicians think tax dollars should be spent to give convicted criminals a free college degree.”
On February 14, 2014 the New York Times ran a story about a very promising initiative called the University of the People. This young online school, founded just four years ago, offers courses to disadvantaged and underserved groups mostly for free (application costs run $0 to $50 and examination costs are $100). The University of the People has 700 students from 142 countries currently taking classes. Some 25 percent are from the United States and 30 percent are from Africa.
While there are several popular online courseware platforms currently in existence – think of edX and Coursera – University of the People is different. Classes often consist of 20 to 30 students and run for ten weeks. Quizzes and homework assignments are expected of all students, regardless of the diverse range of countries where they might reside. While a reported 3,000 professors have volunteered, only 100 have actually been used in either courseware development or instruction. Current degree offerings include degrees in computer science and business administration.
The idea behind such an initiative is that there is a way to offer free – or very low-cost – high quality education to students anywhere in the world, all through a central course delivery system. Programs like the University of the People manage to do so through open courseware which often relies heavily on textual content. This is an essential component of any such global program due to the lack of broadband internet access in African countries, a major geographic focus of such educational initiatives.